Democracy not fundamentalism

Welsh Assembly member Peter Black reports on his battle to protect freedom of speech from what he be

Thursday was a good day for democracy in Wales. Patrick Jones came to the Welsh Assembly to read from his controversial book of poems, 'Darkness Is Where The Stars Are', whilst 250 Christians sang and prayed outside.

As one of the sponsors of this reading I felt that I had a moral duty to arrange it. Patrick Jones may have sought debate with Christian Voice and others over poems that they consider to be blasphemous and obscene but that does not justify them seeking to shout him down or forcing the cancellation of the launch of his book in Waterstones.

This was never about the poems. I did not set out to upset anybody of any religion. However, I could not stand by and allow a small minority to trample over basic rights to freedom of speech and expression. The National Assembly for Wales is the home of Welsh democracy, it has responsibilities for culture and literature, so it is the ideal place to stage a reading.

Freedom of speech includes the freedom to offend. Once people are allowed to apply their own subjective values to others then we are on a slippery slope to dictatorship. I very much regret that people were offended but the principles involved in putting on this event were paramount.

What has disturbed me throughout this process has been the attitude of Christian Voice and their supporters. They are not democrats, they do not believe in the freedom of thought and expression. In fact their leader, Stephen Green has said that he believes that we are living in a theocracy.

Everybody knows the famous Monty Python sketch in which 'nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition'. Well, if Christian Voice had their way it would be re-established in this country and anybody who offends them or takes the name of their saviour in vain will be silenced.

Another disturbing aspect of their campaign was its Islamphobia. Jesus was in fact a prophet of Islam as well. And yet all of the e-mails I have received made reference to Islam as an essentially vengeful and violent religion. This is not the case and yet that did not stop Christian Voice attacking Muslims as violent extremists in order to justify their own extremism.

And then there were the Assembly Members who supported Christian Voice, a number of Labour and Plaid Cymru AMs and the entire Conservative group. They enjoy the privileges afforded by our democracy, they are elected to defend our freedoms and yet they cannot see beyond their mailbag. They believe in 'freedom but...'. How would they feel if it were applied to them? They would be outraged and quite rightly, so why do they think they can apply caveats to other people?

What this event proved to me was that in a healthy democracy both sides can have their say. What I found most disturbing was that if some people who like to believe they are democrats had had their way then Patrick Jones would have been gagged and his book banned. That sort of action can never be allowed in this country.